Putting words in their mouths

Updated: 2012-03-14 08:09

By Xu Lin (China Daily)

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Putting words in their mouths

Dubbing films and TV series, usually for the sake of comedic parody, has become a growing online trend. Xu Lin reports in Beijing.

Xiao Xia never dreamt she would become an overnight celebrity after she posted a self-dubbed video on the Internet last month. But people have gone crazy over the 24-year-old's work, in which she dubbed over the voices of 14 actresses in clips from six popular costume epics. The video has received more than 300,000 hits, as of press time. Themes include comments on the 2012 CCTV Spring Festival Gala, playing mahjong and ergophobia.

"It's so funny!" 27-year-old Beijing white-collar worker Zhang Meng says.

"How can one person imitate so many voices? It's a light-hearted way to make judgments about reality."

Xiao Xia, who works at a Beijing online game studio, says she's happy people like her video.

"I'm just trying to find my sense of belonging on the Internet," she says.

Xiao Xia is actually her online name. She refuses to reveal her true identity to protect her privacy.

Many companies have started contacting her in the hope of working with her, she says.

Humorous dubbed videos that are close to life have become increasingly popular on the Web in recent years. Consequently, online dubbing communities have been emerging.

Most clips are from classic soap operas from the 1990s, such as Taiwan's New Legend of Madame White Snake and Princess Pearl.

"Most people who dub videos are amateurs, like me," Xiao Xia says.

She developed an interest in dubbing as a child and started doing it in 2008.

"I used to do radio plays and imitate soap operas to practice, but creativity is more important," she says. "Why not change the lines?"

It took her two days to finish the video, which is her third work. She first selected the main topics and hunted down clips of suitable TV series that feature distinctive voices.

"I noted the soap operas' lines and wrote new lines, the words of which had to be the same as the originals," she says.

"If there's a close-up shot of the actress, I have to consider the shape her mouth makes when she speaks while writing lines."

Xiao Xia says most dubbed dialogues are from her own life.

In one clip, for example, the empress complained the princess didn't have a boyfriend and wanted to force her into marriage via corporal punishment.

"My mom said exactly the same thing to me," Xiao Xia says.

"At our age, if one doesn't have a boyfriend, parents belabor the topic whenever there is a chance."

She says she used simple software to record and spent about two hours editing it. She only reduced noise and edited the recordings, and didn't change tones.

"As my sound is not steady, I can master many voices," she says.

"I first practice the words the character frequently uses to get to grips with pronunciations, tones and stresses until I can use the voice to cry, smile and shout."

Xiao Xia says it's difficult to find an appropriate video to dub. She chooses popular TV soaps from a decade or two ago, because audiences are more familiar with the voices and can easily relate to the dubbing.

But not all dubbing is funny business, says Fan Hanxiao, leader of Y Show Club, one of the biggest online dubbing groups.

"We not only do humorous videos but also those associated with people's livelihoods," Fan says.

"For example, we call on people to help those in need."

The 22-year-old works for a construction company in Zhejiang province's capital Hangzhou when not doing voiceovers for online videos.

Since its founding in May 2010, the club has been joined by more than 40 regular dubbing performers. Its forum has more than 10,000 registered members and features more than 100 dubbed works.

Fan says about a third of the members are dubbing professionals, while others are students, teachers, civil servants and white-collar workers. Members vary in age from those born after 1970 to those born after 1990. The youngest is 14.

Putting words in their mouths

Xu Du (center) and his team are famous for their funny dubbed videos. Provided to China Daily

Fan explains the process as starting with the selection of characters and background music, followed by online auditions to see whose voice is closest to the actual character.

"Then we send them the script, gather the clips and edit it with music," Fan says.

Dubbing forum administrator Huang Mei says the country's online dubbing communities usually practice by creating not-for-profit radio plays and TV series parodies.

"We've cooperated with several companies to do videos to promote their movies and TV series," Fan says.

"But most works are just for fun."

Xiao Xia says she's not yet earning money from video dubbing but will consider it.

She works part-time for a radio station in her hometown, Liaoning province's capital Shenyang, and dubs radio advertisements. A 20-second dubbing - including the concept creation, recording and editing - brings in a profit of 100 yuan ($16) to 200 yuan.

"We've done several video advertisements and some funny ones for companies' year-end parties," says Xu Du, 22, a senior student at the Beijing University of Science and Technology, who became famous because of his dubbing videos in 2010.

Xu says his dubbing team has nine members, all in their 20s. Xu is particularly good at imitating Taiwan singer and actor Alec Su.

"Funny dubbed videos of similar styles spread like wildfire after 2010," Xu says.

"I plan to open my own studio after graduation and hope I can make a breakthrough."

Beijing Shengfeng Law Firm partner Yu Guofu says such dubbing violates copyrights.

"But if these videos are shared among small groups of people and the rights holders don't mind, dubbing is no problem."

Contact the writer at xulin@chinadaily.com.cn.